Katanning bull on show

26 Jan, 2014 01:00 AM
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John Feehan was the guest speaker at this year's Katanning bull inspection day.
This crop of bulls has more naturally-mated bulls than AI bulls, so they are all performing well
John Feehan was the guest speaker at this year's Katanning bull inspection day.

A STEADY stream of potential clients last week took the opportunity to visit three cattle studs in the Katanning area and view this year's bull offerings.

It was part of the annual Katanning District's bull inspection day and this year everything came in a set of three.

It was the third year the three studs displayed sale teams, consisting of three different breeds, offering a wide range of choice to new and prospective clients.

Perfect weather and a friendly atmosphere laid the foundation for a pleasant day, with John, Flo and Matthew Kitchen, Carenda Angus stud, welcoming regular clients, as well as a few new faces, to their property.

John Kitchen said the inspection day was getting more popular each year and they had a number of people calling through to inspect their sale team.

"Our bulls have come up very well this year," John said.

"We had a very good season, combined with a dry summer, so there is still plenty of guts in the feed.

"This crop of bulls has more naturally-mated bulls than AI bulls, so they are all performing well."

Meanwhile over at Brad and Sylvia Patterson's property, Bullock Hills Simmental stud, a large number of people also arrived to check out this year's Farm Weekly WA Supreme Bull Sale team on display.

Included in the sale will be 15 led-Simmental bulls and three Black Simmental bulls, with Brad Patterson highlighting two outstanding bulls that particularly held potential to become stud sires.

"The first bull to be offered at the sale will be Horsham, who is a polled, very correct, upstanding sire," Brad said.

"He has huge sire potential, as does Hammer, who is a young late June calf with a very handy set of figures."

Then it was over to the Wise family's Southend Murray Grey stud, where co-principal Kurt Wise not only had the sale bulls on display, but was also taking interested attendees on paddock tours to check out the stud's other well-bred bulls.

The Wise's Murray Grey bulls stood contentedly as a constant line of potential clients inspected their breeding attributes, particularly taking note of their quiet temperaments and structurally correct form.

Breeding quiet bulls well-suited to the commercial environment is a key focus of the stud, attracting many commercial Murray Grey producers to attend the inspection day from all areas of WA.

An additional incentive to attend the field day and top off a successful event was a fascinating presentation from Australia's number one dung beetle expert, John Feehan.

Beginning his presentation by acknowledging that indeed, his life's work has been focused on sifting through dung, he moved on to give an interesting account of the past, present and future of the dung beetle, one of the most underrated organisms on earth.

His passion for the clever beetle and all its capabilities led him to work on the CSIRO dung beetle program for more than 31 years.

When that finished, he formed his own private Canberra-based company SOILCAM to continue researching, collecting and releasing suitable dung beetle species into grazing regions in Australia and internationally.

Offering a free dung beetle identification service, Mr Feehan determines what a farmer has already got and what beetles they needed in order to improve efficiency and soil health.

There were a number of noteworthy points made by Mr Feehan, the one most prominent being that cow pads and dung beetles were two of nature's most freely available, yet under-utilised resources.

"Australian soils are some of the most nutrient-deficient soils in the world," Mr Feehan said.

"Out of all the countries, we are the ones that need to recycle nutrients the most and yet one of our most valuable resources is left sitting on top of the ground.

"Nature never intended that valuable product to be wasted on the surface of soil.

"When dung sits on top of the ground, 80 per cent of the nitrogen gets lost to the atmosphere, but a dung beetle reverses that.

"When dung beetles are around, 80pc goes into the ground and only 20pc goes into the atmosphere."

Optimising the benefits of one of nature's most efficient recycling organisms was an area that some Australian farmers and politicians have been slow on the uptake, particularly with regards to reducing carbon emissions.

Dung beetles of all shapes and sizes have the ability to store carbon in the soil, reducing the impact on the atmosphere and helping to avoid a potentially hefty carbon tax bill if it's introduced.

Other trace elements imperative to soil health continue to be challenging to retain and according to Mr Feehan, resources such as phosphorus were predicted to be completely exhausted world-wide in 30 years.

He outlined studies that have shown phosphorus in animal dung to be at least as good as phosphorus applied to the soil as fertiliser, so a dung beetle's role in returning the important trace element was paramount.

"We need to remember here that dung beetles can't actually produce trace elements," he said.

"But what they can do, and they do it very effectively, is help perpetuate and recycle them into the soil.

"They can drill through hard, solid layers of soil too, allowing plants to access the nutrient-rich soil beneath it."

One of the best parts of the process was the beetles' ability to not discriminate between types of dung, burying any excrement, provided it was fresh and moist.

Mr Feehan showed the crowd numerous photographs of rhino, ostrich, dog, pig, cattle and sheep dung, before and after the beetles had worked their magic.

Introducing dung beetles into an existing operation also meant barely a single farming practice needed to be altered.

The only exception was some animal health vaccinations, which had an adverse effect on the beetles, as they altered the dung and killed the beetles attempting to break it down.

More than 60 farmers attended the spirited presentation and finished the field day enlightened by the numerous benefits dung beetles provided cattle producers, as well as the tough choice of narrowing their bull selections for the upcoming sales.

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